Sundance Horror Breakdown: Motherhood Looms Large Over a Crop of Ambitious Indies

Spoiler alert: Plot points from “Infinity Pool” are discussed below.

One of the most indelible images from Sundance 2023 came at the end of Brandon Cronenberg’s luxury-vacation-gone-wrong film “Infinity Pool.” The protagonist, James (Alexander Skarsgård), is bruised and battered, physically and emotionally, after killing a feral clone of himself with his bare hands. The mysterious Gabi (Mia Goth) reveals one of her breasts, covers it with the blood of the killed clone, and invites James to nurse from her, his hulking body curled on her lap like a child.

It was clear that most of the indie filmmakers who debuted horror and Midnight films at Sundance had maternal relationships on their minds. Of the eight midnight selections, seven featured strong thematic ties to mother-child relationships.

While the theme wasn’t limited to the Midnight section (see buzzy debuts such as “The Persian Version” and “Bad Behaviour”), it wasn’t as all-encompassing at other corners of the festival. And while mainstream horror looks like it could touch on this topic in upcoming studio fare such as “Evil Dead Rise,” many of the key titles don’t point to it like the indies do. In fact, look no further than January’s unexpected horror hit “Skinamarink,” in which the main characters spend much of their time trying to find their mother.

Sundance 2022 featured a strong crop of Midnight features that ended up resonating with the horror community (including “Speak No Evil,” “Fresh,” “Piggy,” and “Hatching,”), and this year’s slate was an equally strong, if contemplative, bunch.

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